Whether you're talking learning new computer skills or developing new career paths, education is the key to success.

So it's a relative no-brainer that companies that don't hop on this particular bandwagon and make workforce development a priority may be making a mistake, according to experts in business education.

"Employees today are challenged and taxed more than ever and they require and demand more skills," notes Bob Veverka, director of executive education for the University of Cincinnati in Clifton Heights. "The company that educates their employees can compete. Studies show that those businesses that invest in training do get a return on investment. A discounted strategy for training employees will yield a smaller result."

"One of the big upcoming problems for companies is the retirement of the baby boom generation. Companies need to train now to have leaders for the future and be able to fit employees for different and changing roles."

The training sessions must be flexible, if they are to work, suggest business educators in the field.

"All of our degree programs are open for adults, allowing them to participate in the programs available on weekends and evenings, ranging from accounting to social work," notes Nicki Veldhaus, assistant director for adult and transfer students at the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Price Hill.

At the Mount, you meet anywhere from five to eight times on campus in a 16-week semester, meeting for 3 hours, every third or other week. "The thing that's nice about this is you get time to work on your own. You really hit the ground running," says Veldhaus.

"It's very nice because with long-distance learning, you feel a little alone if you have issues or questions. But with our adult ed programs, you always have faculty there who can answer your questions, and you meet in group sessions. It's the best of both worlds. It offers you the capability to have self-directed study."

Two main groups benefit from adult ed programs, points out Veldhaus: "One, adults who are thinking about career transition; it allows them to build an additional skill set to make that transition. Two, those in a career who are not getting those advances they want to; they see people passing them by or see younger people with a degree passing them by."

Almost 10 million students in America this year will flock to two-year colleges, while tens of millions more will opt to attend night and weekend classes at traditional four-year colleges and universities. And, of course, there are the myriad choices of non-credit and certificate training centers.

And there's a new wrinkle: the NKU METS program in Northern Kentucky, which sets out to perform a new, non-competitive, coordinating, truly public-service role for a postsecondary educational institution, says Robert A. Snyder, executive director of the Metropolitan Education and Training Services (METS).

Snyder describes his organization as an employment advocacy firm. "We help analyze the business situation and identify the barriers to performance, then eliminate them. There is more than one solution to a problem. For example, if your employees aren't making sales, the problem could be with the incentive program, with management communication, or a number of other things that a sales training course would not address."

"Maybe 75 percent to 85 percent of the training that goes on today doesn't lead to change in the workplace for many reasons, such as conditions on the job being different than in training or people aren't rewarded on the job for things they learn in training," observes Snyder.

"We have helped over 250 clients in the past year find training organizations that they are sure they want and need. We are like one tool in a big toolbox. We are not selling a general panacea but a specific performance improvement need for an employer."

It all comes to good sense, no matter what direction your company takes, points out Veverka, director of executive education at U.C.

"The three main benefits of continued work training are increased employee retention, improved job performance, and increased likelihood of promotion. If you do not offer ongoing training, you will make up the time and resources later trying to find and recruit people to meet your changing needs."

"People cite ongoing training opportunities as a high priority when looking for jobs. By offering ongoing training, a business can attract the best applicants for the job," adds Veverka. "Businesses cite skill shortages as one of their top organizational issues. By offering ongoing training to their employees, businesses can solve this problem."

"If you think anyone, including the Pope, can talk to you for 8 hours and overcome the 30 years of culture that a business has fostered, you are wrong," concludes Snyder. Programs should "target what is truly causing the problems and provide system-wide support to solve them."